Long before the 19th amendment was ratified in August 1920, granting them the right to vote, American women were making their voices heard–albeit silently–with fabric, needle, and thread. Although no longer silent, today’s quilters continue to express their political preferences and social views, as well as their patriotism, through their quilts. Here, in honor of Monday’s President’s Day holiday, are a few examples–some old, some new–of how we speak through our handiwork. This isn’t about politics: no matter your “political persuasion,” I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into a unique niche in our quilting heritage.
Appliqued Eagles (84″ x 85″), maker unknown, c.1850, formerly in the collection of Shelly Zegart, photo by Geoffrey Carr, seen in Episode 7 of the documentary Why Quilts Matter
Presidential elections have been a rich source of subject matter for quiltmakers since the 19th century. Elizabeth Holmes made it very easy for us to recognize her political preferences by proclaiming them boldly in her patriotic red, white, and blue quilt. The names of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant (as well as Grant’s first-term Vice-President, Schuyler Colfax) appear prominently, as well as the date, 1869, the year Grant first took office.
Patriotic (90″ x 71″), made by Elizabeth Holmes, 1869
For a time, this quilt was in a private collection, but (the amazing) Julie Silber, who provided the image, is uncertain of its present home. I’m thinking, perhaps, the American Folk Art Museum, but if anyone knows for sure, please leave a comment below and I’ll amend this post to reflect the answer. (UPDATE: Scroll down to see the comment from NYC appraiser and dealer in antique quilts, Laura Fisher, regarding the current whereabouts of this quilt, and a follow-up from Bev Aguilar with a link to a photo on The Pink Pagoda blog.)
This next quilt, made in 1884, recognizes the victorious 1880 ticket of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Note the use of the commemorative panels in this and the following two quilts.
Garfield-Arthur Medallion Quilt (84″ x 84″), made by Anna May Ensminger, 1884, photo by Geoffrey Carr, formerly in the collection of Shelly Zegart, seen in Episode 2 of the documentary Why Quilts Matter
Grover Cleveland holds a unique place in the presidential pantheon. He is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, as the 22nd and 24th commander in chief.
Grover Cleveland Quilt (85 1/2″ x 85 1/2″), maker unknown, c. 1884 – 1890, collection of the American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Made in America – Margy Dyer, seen in Episode 7 of the documentary Why Quilts Matter
Here’s another quilt that honors Cleveland, this time with Thomas A. Hendricks, who served as Vice President during Cleveland’s first term. Its crazy-quilt style was common for the period in which it was made.
Cleveland-Hendricks Crazy Quilt (75″ x 77″), maker unknown, c. 1885 – 1900, collection of the American Folk Art Museum, gift of Margaret Cavigga, seen in Episode 7 of the documentary Why Quilts Matter
Fast forward to the 20th century. In the 1930s, Ruth E. Finley, author of Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them, designed a pattern that she called “Roosevelt Rose” in honor of then-President Franklin Roosevelt. The design first appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine, with the pattern available for purchase. We’ll never know for sure whether the quiltmaker who made this version was a fan of FDR or just loved the colorful appliqued design, but it’s interesting to note the presidential inspiration.
Roosevelt Rose (67″ x 82″), maker unknown, c. 1934 (probably made in Missouri), in the General Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum
And the beat goes on. Inspired by political campaign fabrics of the past, quilt historian Barbara Brackman created the following image, which she produced on fabric via Spoonflower to mark the 2012 presidential campaign. (Visit Barbara’s blog, Material Culture, to get the whole story, and to see examples of the historic inspiration and Barbara’s finished fabric. For more about Spoonflower, check out Jennifer’s earlier post about them here.)
Inspired by historic campaign fabrics, Barbara Brackman created this image to produce fabric for the 2012 election.
As it happens, Barbara shared a sample of her fabric with her friend, Deb Rowden, who explains, “I, of course, started adding little scraps of fabric all around the main character . . .” Here’s what happened!
Go Barack!, (24″ x 27″), made by Deb Rowden, 2012
Visit Deb’s blog, Thrift Shop Quilts, for a closer look at this fun and scrappy quilt.
One last (and happy) announcement: the winner of the signed copy of Eleanor Levie’s book, Quilt Blocks Go Wild!, from my February 5 post is Terry (@ a quilting blog). Congratulations, Terry!
‘Til then, happy stitching!